Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Theoharides and Domino: The NBA Offseason Breakdown

The Olympics are over and training camp doesn't start for a month, so Alex Theohardies (@Minne_Pop) and Matt Domino thought it was a good time to break down the insane NBA offseason.

(Editor’s Note: This extended e-mail conversation between myself and Alex Theoharides started before the Dwight Howard trade went down and completely altered the balance of power in the NBA. This exchange has been left in tact to reflect the flow of events as they actually happened in our natural conversation.)

THEOHARIDES: OK Mr. Puddler, let’s begin by talking about the moves made by the Nets. First, they traded up (#BIGTIME) in their move from Jersey to Brooklyn. Then they re-signed Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams, swung a trade with Atlanta for Joe Johnson and the $90 million remaining on his deal, and finally whiffed on a trade for Dwight (Kryptonite) Howard, which forced them to re-sign Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries to hefty contracts.

Much has been made of whether or not Knicks fans can now (under the complicated rules of fandom) switch their allegiance from the oft-frustrating Knicks to the perpetually boring Nets. While the Nets lineup is improved from last season, I’m not sure it’s enough for the Nets to make a splash in Brooklyn. For one thing, it seems like the Nets have assembled the least Hipster squad in the NBA. The team’s best player, Deron Williams, has a disturbing spray-on hair style, which, combined with his habit of standing with his hands on his hips, while he shakes his head angrily at referees, his teammates, and even his coaches, makes him look like a character in a Tyler Perry movie. Joe Johnson is named Joe Johnson. Gerald Wallace ate all the hipsters he ran into in Portland. Brook Lopez (while pretty hip) is the lesser hipster of the Lopez twins. Kris Humphries married was employed by Kim Kardashian. Jerry Stackhouse used to be a hipster until he got old and threw out his hips. And don’t even get me started on Mirza Teletovic. Domino you live in Brooklyn. Help me sort through this madness. Will the Borough of Skinny Jeans embrace the Nets?

DOMINO: What was that? Sorry my head was glued to the TV watching an epic Suns v. Warriors game from first round of the 1994 Playoffs. Barkley scored 38 points by halftime. Spreewell had about 20 points and 4 fouls. Mullin was streaking and Webber was dishing out behind the back passes. Plus the energy in Oakland was amazing. I’m about to go get a big, vintage can of Busch beer and dig in here.

But to the question at hand, yes, of course everyone in Brooklyn is going to embrace the Nets. Now, its well known that “hipsters” (whatever that actually means anymore) love vintage, historical things—but, newsflash, everyone in America does. We like to remember the good ol’ days. Now, in my mind, no Knicks fans will EVER switch over to the Brooklyn Nets, but “swing-fans,” such as out of town transplants that are either big basketball fans or who just felt like assigning their sports identity to the historical significance of the Knicks, might find themselves jumping on the Nets bandwagon. A sports team in Brooklyn automatically becomes cool not just because Brooklyn is the center of youth-culture right now, but also because it calls to mind Old America; sepia toned paper; beers with excellent fonted logos; handcrafted Brooklyn chocolate and other nostalgic candies. As for the team, they are going to be good and there is a chance that they could actually be very likeable. You have Deron Williams who will finally be given the ringleader role he’s always wanted on a team that has some talent. He can definitely rep Brooklyn and you know that he will be at one of the THREE CLUBS in the Barclays center hanging out Jay-Z and any other celebrities that happen to be OK with going to a club that is right next to hell a.k.a the Atlantic Terminal Buffalo Wildwings. You also have Brook Lopez and his hipster doofus appeal; Hump hitting the boards and trying to prove that he isn’t THAT much of a dick; MarShon “Yes, that’s how it's spelled” Brooks looking to prove he’s every bit as explosive as he showed in his rookie year; Gerald Wallace is past his prime but hustles and can give you one of those out of nowhere performances that a crowd can get behind and then later look back on fondly; and you have some good chemistry guys like Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson and Jerry Stackhouse as well as the ultimate chemistry guy/NBA comedian in Reggie Evans. Seriously, have you ever seen his Twitter feed? This team is destined to be jockeying for the 4th or 5th seed with the Knicks, but their ceiling as far as “wins and losses” and “likeability” lies with Joe Johnson. Joe Johnson led a very talented Hawks team to “perennial 4th or 5th seed with a lukewarm fan base” status. People in Brooklyn are EXCITED for this team. I live right up the street from the stadium and there is a buzz. As each week goes by, I see more and more Nets gear and more and more restaurants and bars gearing up for the season. It’s going to be a den of black and white around the stadium (more than it already is!!!) and if Joe Johnson doesn’t perform well, I have a feeling this fan base will let him know. What Joe has going for him is that Deron Williams is the first good point guard he’s played with since he was on the 2005 Suns team that went to the Western Conference Finals.

But enough from me. You’re going to be giving us the full low-down on the 2013 Minnesota Timberwolves during the Puddles of Myself NBA Preview Week, but for right now, what are the five words that you would use to describe the T-Wolves’ off-season?

THEOHARIDES: Kahn’s angst-ridden quest for Love.  

DOMINO: Well played. As your “Editor-in-Chief”, I couldn’t be happier. We’ll leave the Wolves thoughts there for now because I am sure you have all sorts of thoughts on AK-47’s dramatic return to the NBA; the Batum sweepstakes; and the Brandon “Modern Day Jesus” Roy resurrection.

What other off-season moves impressed you besides the “almost-complete” makeover that the Nets went through? I thought that two of the best teams—and two of the most bitter rivals—in the league, the Heat and the Celtics, did a fantastic job getting better. What are your thoughts on the moves in Miami and Boston? I know that you are originally a Boston fan. Were you one of those Celtics fans who acted like they had been shot when Ray Allen decided to take his talents to South Beach with the best player on the planet?

THEOHARIDES:  The Ray Allen nonsense drives me crazy. Fans who only latched onto the Celtics after the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen came together somehow seem to believe the players owe them “loyalty.” Boston fans should and will root against Ray Allen and the Heat. In fact, Allen’s’ move to the Heat should make their basketball viewing experience even more valuable. Having a team to root against is almost as fun as having a team to root for. However, hating Allen for leaving the team makes no sense. It didn’t take long for the Celtics to move on from Ray Allen. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers quickly added Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Jeff Green to fill Allen’s spot. Last season, when Allen was hampered with injuries, they replaced him in the starting lineup with Avery Bradley. Just like Ray Allen had every right to move to another team, Boston had every right to replace him. Ray Allen was a free agent. Just like he had every right to come to the Celtics in the first place, he had every right to seek out a new opportunity if he wasn’t happy playing for the Celtics.

The concept of player loyalty is one the most ill-used concepts in sports. College athletes are branded as being traitors or selfish if they come out of school early; yet college coaches readily switch programs for higher salaries. Management routinely forces older players into retirement; yet, players nearing the end of their careers are expected to play out their short tenure as professional athletes on one team.

My loyalty as a fan is to the game of basketball itself. I root for storylines, beautiful passes, players I enjoy watching, and teams that win in entertaining and unpredictable ways.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Ray Allen’s move to Miami will be seeing how well he can fit in with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. On paper, it seems like a fantastic acquisition for the Heat. Allen should give the Heat improved spacing and long range shooting. However, the overlooked storyline for the Heat is Wade’s health. Can Allen provide enough minutes to rest Wade? Will his injuries return? Even though Boston will remain a tough out, the Heat are obvious favorites to repeat next year out of the East. What do you see happening in the west? OKC has mostly stayed pat. The Lakers added Steve Nash. Do you see any surprise contenders? Who is the one player you see making a leap, and carrying a team deep into the postseason?

DOMINO: Well first let me say...


In that trade, Andre Iguodala ends up having more “trade value” than Dwight Howard. Now, I like Iguodala, but he is a freak athlete who slowly realized that he was not an alpha or beta dog and was better suited as a shut down wing defender who scores about 13 points a game and is most likely your third best player. Dwight Howard is the best center of this generation of NBA players (which isn’t REALLY saying much, but still).

After this trade, the Lakers, on paper, have become the favorites to win the West and possibly the NBA title. When push comes to shove, though, even with Dwight I’m not sure the Lakers have the defense to stop the Thunder. In a Conference Finals series, Westbrook will absolutely KILL Steve Nash. Now, Nash will have Dwight as his security blanket, but after the Finals run and now the Olympics, don’t you think that Westbrook and Durant are too good and have too many tricks up their sleeve to simply be pushed aside by Dwight’s defensive presence? I mean, if you trot out a crunch time lineup of Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Ibaka and Sefalosha, someone is going to get an open shot somehow against the aging Lakers even if Dwight in the middle has revitalized their D. Plus, the Thunder made perhaps the sneakiest steal of the off-season by grabbing Perry Jones in the draft who has nothing but upside for them. At worst, he’s a prime-era Rashard Lewis (not amazing, but not the worst thing that could happen with a pick in the 20’s) and at best, he’s their Serge Ibaka insurance with more offensive potential. Plus, bringing him off the bench in a Western Conference war with the Lakers only helps solidify their legs and depth. Obviously, the Dwight news is a HUGE deal, but I still don’t think it makes the Lakers that much better than the Thunder. The holes in Nash’s game and Pau’s game (and even Kobe if you have been watching the Olympics) on defense are too much to ignore against an insanely fast, young, and smart team like the Thunder. Miami beat them because Lebron took his game to another level, Battier did Battier things and the Heat played fantastic defense.

Now, I’m a well-documented Miami backer and I am excited about this season. I think Allen will do nothing but good things for the Heat and help to prolong Wade’s peak. Their crunch time lineup of Wade, Allen, Battier, Lebron and Bosh will be extremely heady and tough to defend. I mean just think about them matching up with the Lakers in the Finals. Who does Nash defend? Do you put Kobe on Lebron? Can Pau even pretend to guard Lebron? Does Dwight stay home to protect the rim and leave Bosh floating for his now patented 18-22 footer? The only guaranteed draw is between Battier and Artest and even there, I think Battier has the upper hand somehow. Plus, now you have Rashard Lewis coming off the bench to provide some offense that the second unit was lacking last year. I mean, at WORST on a good team like the Heat, Lewis can give you what Mike Miller gave the Heat for most of last year, right?

And, you may call me crazy, but I think the Heat pick up Andray Blatche for the veteran’s minimum right at the end of August and use him as a backup center. The guy is 6’11” and will turn 26 right before the start of the season. He’s been in the league for 7 seasons (!!!) already and has not once played for a team with any semblance of order, discipline or sanity. You don’t think he could come off the bench and be a solid big body with some offensive polish that the Heat could throw at Gasol and Howard or Ibaka and Perkins? Mix him with the annoying gnat energy of Anthony and you could drive a few of those Western Conference bigs crazy. I’ve been watching a steady diet of vintage Bulls games from the early 90’s and the array of mediocre, “just has enough tools,” big guys that the Bulls could throw out on the court was insane: Purdue, Cartwright, King, Scott Williams. None of those guys were great, but they never took anything off the table (maybe Cartwright who thought he was better than he was by ‘92-’93) and they always brought some weird dimension that the opposition had to scramble to figure out. The Heat, if they pick up a young guy with a lot to prove like Blatche, can definitely have the same vibe going on.

OK, enough out of me. What do you make of the Howard trade and its ripple effect in both conferences? I didn’t even mention how much Denver and Philadelphia improved because of this trade.

THEOHARIDES: The Dwight Howard trade is fantastic for the NBA. The league now has two teams—the Lakers and Heat—that will draw in casual viewers, even if only so that they can root against them. Just imagine the ratings a Lakers-Heat final would give the NBA. It will also be fascinating to watch how Kobe, Nash, and Gasol—three “serious” and older basketball players—learn to play with Dwight Howard, who often seems to care more about his image and “brand” than he does about wins or losses. During their last years together, there was friction between Kobe and Shaq; my guess, there will also be friction between Kobe and Dwight Howard.

The addition of Andrew Bynum won’t change much in Philadelphia. I expect them to be more or less the same team they were last year. Remember, Bynum has never been asked to carry a team for more than a few quarters at a time. He has a history of missing games and of being a generally weird dude. Philly will make the playoffs, but they won’t go much further than that. And they won’t be any fun to watch.

Denver, on the other hand, has to be the early favorite for NBA League Pass Team of the Year. Last year, the Twolves owned that honor until Ricky Rubio went down, at which point Denver took over and ended the season as one of the best NBA League Pass teams in recent NBA history. This year, Kahn smartly tried to bolster the Twolves appeal to NBA addicts by acquiring a duo of crazy-eyed Russians and the recycled spare parts from various Portland Trail Blazers’ teams. Denver, however, seems intent on holding on to its throne. Take a look at a few of the names in their lineup: Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Timofey Mozgov, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and French rookie Evan Fournier. Not exactly a group of brain surgeons, but shnikes that’s a fun lineup.

(Editor's Note: Alex forgot to mention the immortal Izzet Turkyilmaz as one of Denver's primary assets.)

People will watch, Domino. They’ll turn on their televisions for reason they can’t even fathom. They’ll flip through the channels not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at NBA League Pass as innocent as children, longing for the past. They’ll hand over their money without even thinking about: for it is money they have, and NBA action they lack. And they'll watch Denver play and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. Yes, people will watch the Denver Nuggets, Domino. People will most definitely watch them play.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, let’s go to lightning round mode and make some predictions.

Dwight Howard or Steve Nash. Bigger hit in L.A?

DOMINO: I have to go Nash here. He’s a much more likeable personality and player on the floor. With all due respect to Kobe’s achievements, Los Angeles is still Magic’s town and there is nothing Lakers fans enjoy more than a great point guard dictating a great offense up and down the hardwood spotlight of the Staples Center. Nash will resonate with L.A. There are already rumors that Dwight won’t resign in L.A. no matter what, which is baffling to me. If that mindset festers and lingers throughout the season, it will be perhaps the key factor into the Lakers not winning the title.

Let’s throw it to the East coast mecca. What do you expect to come out of the New York Knicks season? I actually think the Felton move was good for the Knicks. He’ll be in shape, motivated and willing to defer to Carmelo. The question is, will Amar’e, especially after Carmelo just finished another great Olympic run?

THEOHARIDES: I love it! There are so many blogs in Portland devoted to rants about Fat Raymond Felton. I can only imagine what will happen if he gets in shape and plays well for the Knicks. Portland will have to go back to pretending they’re the best bike city in the U.S.

I’ve loved Carmelo’s game ever since he won a championship with Syracuse, but the Knicks’ roster worries me, particularly, Amar’e. In his prime, Amar’e was a dominant player because of Steve Nash’s passing and the athletic advantage he held against almost every other big in the league. Now that he’s older, no longer plays with Nash, and has dealt with recurring back injuries, he can’t rely on his physical tools to carry him through games.

However, I like Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert a lot. J.R Smith can be a game changer off the bench. Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, and Marcus Camby are savvy vets. You know, I’m kinda talking myself into the Knicks. If Melo gets hot at the right time, I could see the Knicks beating the Celtics in a wild series and meeting the Heat in the Eastern Conference championship. They’ll lose there, of course. But that would be big for New York. Maybe big enough for Knicks’ fans to forgive James Dolan for his crimes against music.

Ok, back to you, what player are you most excited to watch next year? Who will you pay to go see at Barclays Center, The World’s Most Hipster Arena?

DOMINO: Well, I literally live right up the street from the arena, so I tried to figure out a way that I could afford season tickets, but the math just didn’t work (AKA I couldn’t convince my dad to just give me $2,000.00 because it would help my writing career).  Even so, I’ll be going to plenty of games on a whim. I’ve seen the Miami Heat twice in the Big Three era and I’ve seen the Celtics in Boston during the Big Four Era (feat. Perkins), so there aren’t that many “I have to see them before I die games” for me. However, the no-brainers are: first Knicks-Nets game at Barclay’s, Lakers, Heat, Thunder, Clippers, Celtics, TWolves, Grizzlies and now Sixers and Nuggets just to see how those two teams look live with their new players.

However, this question allows me to address my two “off the beaten path” favorites for this season. The first being the Golden State Warriors. I honestly think they are a sleeper out West. If they stay healthy, their starting lineup looks like this: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut. You’re telling me they can’t pull a Utah Jazz from last year and get frisky and athletic and sneak into the 8th seed? They also bring Draymond Green and Carl Landry off the bench for hustle, Jarrett Jack and Richard Jefferson for veteran presence, and Charles Jenkins who is a sneaky backup point guard that will turn a few games for them this season. They are deep, athletic and have a nice mix of youth and veterans. I am all the way on board with the 2012-2013 Golden State Warriors.

Now, for the second “off the beaten path” choice: THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS! That’s right, I have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fever. I only saw his pre-Draft workouts and one summer league game, but this kid does and says all the right things. He is going to be a fantastic leader and teammate and I think he can single-handedly turn that franchise around.  I’m looking at their roster now and they do have a few questionable locker room presences (Tyrus Thomas? Ben Gordon? Brendan Haywood?) but they are going to use a lot of full court pressure, put in a lot of effort and let the young guys like Kemba Walker, MKG and Jeffrey Taylor (great rookie shooter out of Vanderbilt) try to turn the culture around. You can call me crazy, but I want to see MKG in person during his rookie season, just so I can say, “I was there way back when.”

I’ve shown you I’m a little bit crazy, so now why don’t you make your own “off the beaten path” prediction.

THEOHARIDES: Well, you said I would laugh …. And I am … You’re crazy … BUT … I actually do think the Bobcat’s will be a fun team to watch. Anthony Davis is an obvious pick for Rookie of the Year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if MKG walks away with it instead. I see him as a poor man’s Dwyane Wade. Competitive as hell, plays defense, rebounds, can drive to the rack. I like the pick. Something has to go right for MJ one of these days right? He can’t be that bad at owning a team. Can he?

My surprise team is the Sacramento Kings. Not because they are an especially fun or good basketball team, but simply because during any given game there is the possibility that DeMarcus Cousins will throw a temper tantrum, Jimmer Fredette will shoot from half court early in the shot clock, or Tyreke Evans will care about basketball. Oh wait, that last one is impossible. Tyreke Evans will never care about basketball. Only about Tyreke Evans.

All right, final thoughts. I want predictions Domino, and I want them now.

Give me your Western and Eastern Conference matchups, your NBA Championship matchup, and your MVP pick.

DOMINO: OK! You are all business! I like it.

In the Eastern Conference, I’m not going to get cute. We are going to have a Celtics-Heat showdown once again. I mean, would anyone want it any other way? The storylines are endless and all well covered. Plus, there is a chance Rondo—in an effort to put his feud with Ray Allen six feet under—will have a performance we, as humans, could never fathom. And then there is the possibility he could have it topped by Lebron! Those two are in the very exclusive Freak Athlete Club along with Durant, Westbrook and Dwight Howard as we saw very clearly in this past Eastern Conference Finals series. I’m ready to go seven games again!

For the Western Conference it can only be Lakers-Thunder. Do the Lakers shut the Thunder’s window? Would a loss mean that Harden and Ibaka both leave? Or, if the Thunder win, does Dwight decide to split for Dallas or Atlanta and effectively pull the plug on the chance for another Laker mini-dynasty?

At this point in time, I believe that the Lakers put a hold on the Thunder’s constant feel-good story and face the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. Where we finally get our Kobe vs. Lebron matchup, only, well, Kobe is fading and it’s now Lebron’s world and we all just live in it.

Lebron repeats as MVP. Heat repeat as champs.

What are your picks for the same categories and what is one random wish you have for this season? Take us out on a high note!

THEOHARIDES: Brief pause for Mrs. MinnePop to chime in with, “I don’t hate you, I just hate basketball.” And you know what? Mrs. MinnePop has a point. It’s August and we’re talking about the NBA. This off-season has been that good.

Here goes: Kevin Durant wins the MVP, mostly due to his work in Thunderstruck, the story of a NBA star who switches places with a klutzy 16 year old fan!

Lakers-OKC in the West, Knicks-Heat in the East.

It hurts to admit it, but I think Paul Pierce is done. There’s something unsettled about the Celtics roster. I think they struggle with injuries and chemistry, and lose in the second round. AND … I think after the season Paul Pierce leaves Boston and goes home to L.A. to play for the Clippers.

Lakers-Heat in the finals.

Heat win in six. Five days after the finals end Kobe tests positive for steroids and the Internet explodes. Dwight Howard joins One Direction. Steve Nash joins Tottenham Hotspurs. And Pau Gasol quits basketball to become the world’s tallest plastic surgeon.

Lebron James and Dwyane Wade remain best buds forever. Chris Bosh feels left out.

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